Addie allegedly died of diphtheria on June 19, 1901. Click here to read the full obituary. According to Mary Wilson’s book (A History of Lake Mills, published 1983), Addie was murdered by her husband, and the diphtheria story was fabricated to hide the true story. Wilson also states that Addie’s physician, William Oatway, participated in the cover-up, falsifying Addie’s death certificate.
That’s the story. To read more about the background of this story, click here.
It looks like Mary Wilson may have been right. Below are the facts that we’ve discovered along the way.
1) Addie Hoyt Fargo was buried without a burial permit, and this was a violation of Wisconsin state law. The county health officer was Dr. Oatway, and as county health officer, he knew that failure to obtain a burial permit was a direct violation of state law. These laws had been created specifically to help track and mitigate the spread of contagious disease.
Yet on Addie’s death certificate, Dr. Oatway stated that a burial permit had been obtained, and it was “burial permit #32″ (see below). Permit #32 belonged to Alinda Hornily who died on March 26, 1902 (these permits were in chronological order).
The absence of a burial permit is very compelling evidence, and tells us, a) Oatway did falsify the death certificate, b) Oatway knowingly violated state law by signing off on the death certificate and then certifying it as true (while knowing it was false), c) A funeral director was not involved in Addie’s burial (or if he was, he was also complicit, because he knew the death certificate was a falsified document because there was no corresponding burial permit) and d) Addie’s grave may have been dug by someone who was not a professional grave digger (again, because there was no burial permit).
2) The burial permit was a STATE document, but the death certificate was NOT a state document. If a burial permit had listed diphtheria as the cause of death, the state *may* have investigated. When a contagious disease occurred, there were protocols required to prevent the spread of disease. For instance, state law required that a home be fumigated after death from contagious disease had occurred and personal possessions be burned or buried. A burial permit listing diphtheria as the cause of death would have raised a red flag. Oatway, entrusted with the position of County Health Officer knew this, so he lied on the death certificate and never obtained a burial permit for Addie. Doing this meant that the diphtheria story stayed local, and the information would probably not reach the state.
3) The State Board of Health (in Wisconsin) was formed in 1876 to track and mitigate the spread of contagious disease. Each county health officer had to answer this statement in his annual report: “Are the laws requiring the issuance of burial permits enforced?” Oatway, in 1901, stated that yes, the laws requiring the issuance of burial permits were enforced in Lake Mills.
4) Oatway, being a county health officer, also certified Addie’s death certificate, meaning he swore that it was true and accurate. That’s especially egregious.
5) In Addie’s obituary (probably written by Oatway), he goes on at length, describing Addie’s fast-acting Ninja Stealth Diphtheria as the most virulent, fast-acting strain he’d ever seen, that prevailed even in the face of aggressive treatment and modern medical care. It’s quite a prosaic obit, and the doctor is the saddened hero in the story.
6) SO it’s the most virulent strain, the fastest-acting strain, and no modern treatment could bring it into subjugation. And Addie was married to Lake Mill’s wealthiest resident, largest employer, and they were living in Lake Mills’ largest mansion. Yet about four months later, in his capacity of County Health Officer, when Oatway files his report with the State Board of Health, he reported that there were no cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901 (the year Addie died), and no deaths from diphtheria in 1901. Did Oatway lie when he wrote up Addie’s death certificate, or did he lie to the State Board of Health?
7) In the obit, Oatway opines that Addie probably contracted diphtheria during a recent trip to Portage. The newspaper reported she’d traveled to Portage for a convention on June 4th, 1901. Diphtheria germs don’t last longer than 1-4 days. And the county health officer in Portage reported that there were no case of diphtheria in Portage in 1901. There’s that stealth component again. Addie contracted diphtheria in a town with no diphtheria.
8 ) In the obit, Oatway says that Addie died 15 hours after onset, when the membrane formed in her throat, broke off and suffocated her. In the progression of diphtheria, this membrane doesn’t even start to form until 2-3 days after onset (according to the CDC), and children (its most frequent victims) died 4-6 days after onset (if the membrane was the cause of death). Typically, diphtheria killed adults when it settled into their heart and/or brain.
9) Diphtheria was not an automatic death sentence: Far from it, in fact. In 1900, in the state of Wisconsin, the death rate for a diphtheria victim was 13% state-wide, and 9% in small towns (population less than 2,000) and that number included children. If you could take children out of the mix, the rate would probably be less than half that. Children more than five, and adults under 40 had the best chance of surviving a bout of diphtheria. In other words, people Addie’s age (29) had the best chance of surviving diphtheria.
10) During the exhumation, we found that Addie was buried at 34″ which is incredibly shallow. If you thought someone had to buried immediately due to this Ninja Stealth Diphtheria, wouldn’t you make sure they went down at least six feet? Again, it’s doubtful that this was a professional grave digger. It’s more likely that this was someone’s hired man, who got tired and stopped at 34″ (or as the sun was rising). On June 19th, 1901, the sun rose at 4:11 am. A professional grave digger would not have stopped at 34″. But whomever buried Addie, put her coffin in the dirt as soon as there was enough clearance to put a layer of topsoil over the grave. After all, who would ever know?
11) The most compelling piece: Addie was wearing her shoes in that grave. The obit says she died at 2:00 am after a valiant struggle with this awful disease and was buried immediately. How many people wear shoes in their sick bed?
12) And a bonus question. If you look at the burial permits (pictured below), you’ll see that the secretary of the cemetery was Robert Fargo (aka “Uncle Bob”). He also happened to be one of Enoch’s neighbors there on Mulberry Street. It would have been very easy to rouse Uncle Bob from his bed at 2:00 am and tell him, “Addie has died. We need to bury her before the sun rises. Can you get us a burial permit immediately?”
Surely, Uncle Bob could have arranged that.
Why didn’t Enoch do that?
This snippet appeared in the "Report of the State Board of Health" for Wisconsin and covered the the time period during which Addie Hoyt allegedly died of diphtheria.
This statement, taken from the above text and penned by Oatway, says that if there was a case of diphtheria in his town (Lake Mills), it *would* be reported.
Unless you're paid off to falsify a death certificate...
Stats on diphtheria deaths, as seen in the 1899-1900 "Report of the State Board of Health." In smaller towns, the mortality rate from diphtheria was much less than the statewide average of 13%, and was closer to 9%. In Milwaukee (Wisconsin's largest town with 280,000 residents), the mortality rate was closer to 16.75%.
Actually, Addie was born in January 1872. Sheesh.
At the bottom, it does say Addie had a funeral, but that would have been logistically problematic. Dead at two, buried by 10, how did they notify people? Typical Victorian funerals were grandiose affairs; the wealthier the better! More on that below.
Under the date (June 1901), Addie's death certificate reads, "Burial Permit #32." State law demanded accuracy in reporting of birth certificates and burial permits. He would be required to lie again when he submitted his written report to the state of Wisconsin.
This burial permit (#21) is dated May 1st, and the death occurred the day before - April 30th.
Addie's should have been permit #22 (judging by the date). But "John Smith" died on June 26th, and this burial permit was dated June 27th. Addie died on June 19, 1901.
As mentioned above, burial permits were required for every grave that was opened. This burial permit was for a stillborn baby (unnamed). As cemetery sexton Bill Hartwig explained, a burial permit was required for every grave - no exceptions. This was the only permit I saw that had the same permit date and death date. In the case of an unnamed, stillborn child, the logistics involved in burial were very different.
From the State Board of Health Report, this is the first page one of Dr. Bentley's report from Portage, WI. This covered all of 1901. Page two continues below.
Dr. Bentley's report on Portage, second page (see top).
Was this what the well-dressed, sick-in-bed diphtheria patient wore in 1901? Based on the remnants found in Addie's grave, these were probably similar to the shoes that Addie was wearing (and was buried with) when she died in June 1901.
Addie was exhumed on November 3, 2011. She will not be returning to Lake Mills. After the autopsy is complete, Addie's remains will be coming home with me.
Addie's grave was empty by 12:00 noon.
Addie in 1886 (about 14 years old).
Addie - close-up
Addie and her sister, Anna Hoyt (my great-grandmother).
Addie in 1894, about 18 months before she married Enoch.
Addie in her traveling clothes
To read more about Addie’s death, click here.
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